April 26, 2011 by Leah
I used to like Orbitz. I remember signing up for their email list before the site was launched, way back in college. So when Aaron and I were working out how we were going to book our flights to Europe this summer, I logged on to see what the prices were like. We found a round-trip to Zurich for $1562 each, which was the cheapest option with the best schedule (alternatively, we could have used all our miles and still paid like $2400 total). High on travel planning, we decided to just go for it and book the flight. I clicked through all the info, signed myself up for a United Mileage Plus number, and then we high-fived and drank some wine.
Today, I got this text from Aaron:
“Know anything about a ‘travel insurance policy’ for $195?”
I’m usually really good about noticing the fine print and unchecking boxes (I hate getting on email lists), so this was baffling to me. Aaron confirmed that he had watched me book the entire trip and nowhere did either of us notice anything about travel insurance. (To be fair, he was lying on the bed with the dog and didn’t have a good view of the screen.)
It turns out I’m not as good at unchecking boxes as I thought. This link provides the information and reasoning behind Orbitz’s dastardly scheme to make people sign up for travel insurance without even realizing it. I’m still amazed I didn’t notice this while booking our flights. It must have been REALLY hard to see among all the advertisements for hotels and rental cars.
It’s a good thing Aaron keeps his eye on our credit card charges. When he noticed the charge, he did some research and discovered we were within the 10-day “customer satisfaction guarantee” cancellation window and sent me the info on how to cancel. (I was out walking the dog at the time, or I could have done this, too.) I checked my email and, sure enough, some company called Access America had indeed sent me a travel insurance policy document. (I’m really bad about seeing emails unless they are from someone I know.) I called and canceled and we should be seeing a refund for $195.22 on the credit card within three to five business days.
None of this stops me from being hopping mad. A “reputable” company bilking people out of this kind of money? A company that advertises and seems to pride itself on allowing customers to avoid booking fees? 195 dollars is a LOT of money. That’s like 2.5 nights at a decent hotel. Orbitz didn’t try to pull this malarkey when I booked a previous international trip in 2007 – what changed? Has the company gotten so big customer satisfaction no longer matters? Oh, wait, it’s a corporation, and the prime directive of a corporation is to maximize shareholder value. Corporations don’t have any kind of ethical compass other than that directive, and they certainly don’t “care” about customers – they can’t, by definition. They are legal entities with a heck of a lot of power, but they’re not people.
I remember wondering recently what purpose those antiquated shopfronts called “travel agencies” serve in this day and age. If all the big online travel-booking companies are pulling these sorts of shenanigans, perhaps travel agencies will once more become relevant. I will certainly be taking my business away from Orbitz from here on out – maybe I’ll start patronizing my local travel agency, instead. There’s an idea.